Here is a note from Larry Pernosky who led a Christian mission team July 13-23 into Zambia. The eyeglasses ministry played a significant part in the success of their trip.
From: Larry Pernosky
Sent: Sunday, August 08, 2010 9:15 PM
To: Holland Kendall
Subject: Zambia Chronicles
THIS IS LONG - and yet contains only a few highlights of our trip to Zambia. When you have time, and if you'd like...take the time to enjoy some of our joys and tears, struggles and successes....
It is difficult to find the proper words to adequately describe the Zambian Team experience. As most of you know, journaling is not my best strength (hence I am the one guilty of writing less frequent Daily Updates), but I wanted to capture the most cogent points of our ten days of travel, the lives we were given an opportunity to touch, and the ones who deeply touched each one of us.
Our mission trip was partnered with the Kendall Optometry Ministry from Jeffersontown, and Operation Mobilization missionaries Div and Eleanor Du Plessis on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Mpulungu (we have learned to just say Poo-loon-gu), Zambia. The work being done on Lake Tanganyika is a direct follow-on to the work done by Dr. David Livingstone when he visited Lake Tanganyika in the mid to late 1800's while searching for the source of the Nile. We know the famous quote by Henry Morton Stanley ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume"), but little focus on his work as a medical missionary for the London Missionary Society. We were blessed to walk in his paths and to see the remains of the actual church established by his organization - directly resulting from his work.
The trip to Zambia was more arduous than any of us expected. Travel consisted of four plane flights (one 17.5 hours in length), departing Louisville shortly after sunrise on the 13th, and arriving Lusaka, Zambia at 9 pm the following evening. Our reward for arriving was to immediately climb into a mini-bus for a 15 hour ride through the night to Mpulungu. Unfortunately, those hours expanded and we arrived our final destination the next evening at 4 p.m.
Most of you are aware of the team that went - Tim Duke, Tim State and his wife Pam, Wendy Dowd, Leah Eggers, Tammy Gatlin, and a dear friend of mine from my first Ukraine trip, Karen Garfield.
Our host family, Div and Eleanor, are South African missionaries who have been on Lake Tanganyika for five years. They are church planters, raising up local Zambian Mission leaders to continue the work and impact - not only in Mpulungu, but in the villages surrounding Lake Tanganyika. Our days typically consisted of breakfast, setting up the eye clinic, working frantically though the day until close to dinner, breaking down the clinic, dinner, followed by a team debrief, and then a teaching by Div to the team. By then we barely had the energy for showers and bed. It is safe to say we all learned much - being touched by the Zambian people and Div's teaching (he left us with quite a bit of homework).
Here are my "bullets of the days" -
Arrival Night - the 14th
• We immediately met our first challenge at Customs in Lusaka. Our six duffel bags containing almost 2,000 pairs of donated glasses were challenged. While Wendy and I negotiated with the Customs officer, Tim State pulled the team together to pray. These exact same eye glasses had just two weeks earlier been denied entry to Afghanistan. Things appeared to be getting dicey, but we were able to have the glasses released with us.
• The mini-bus was much smaller than we expected. Div Du Plessis and Holly Steward had driven down from Lusaka to meet the team. We packed the six eye glass duffels into a low-rise, smallish trailer, with our other suitcases and backpacks strapped to the top. This part of the trip started to remind me of Kathleen Turner's bus ride across the roads of South America in Romancing the Stone - "is this the bus to Cartagena?" Bags packed, ten tired souls squeezed into the mini-bus, with five women lying across the back of the bus on the floor.
• The drive was filled with fog, at least six police check points, and our introduction to less than exciting bathroom stops. (Ah, the real African challenges began).
Mpulungu -the 15th
• After what seemed like an eternity on the road, we arrived Mpulungu. We immediately unpacked the mini-bus, and after a short break, set up the eye clinic for a "dry run". If I heard this once, I heard it 10 ten times - everyone there were amazed that we went straight to work and did not use the time to decompress. Time was working against us, as we were in a fairy remote part of Africa, and the team immediately responded by getting to work to ensure the clinic would operationalize well on this foreign soil. After a little more than an hour of prep - we were ready. Everyone had their roles and we set for Friday's kickoff.
• This was when we started to get accustomed to always wearing mosquito repellant at key times (apply at 5 pm, 5 am, and immediately after shower before bed). Upon climbing into bed, one had to tuck in the mosquito net under the mattress on all sides. It somewhat acted like a warm cocoon for us.
• We also started to expect the siren, which sounded at the Muslim fishery at 9 pm, 6 am, and noon. Arab music could be heard on loudspeakers from a distance at times, replaced by music from a town bar throughout the night. Roosters would sound at 5 am.
• The house at no screens in the windows, hence the need for careful mosquito repellant. The fans in our rooms would help drown out the village noise, but I found that ear plugs also were a wonderful aid.
• The team also started to learn the benefits of taking Ambien!
• All this to say, while the Du Plessis home seemed different the first night, we would come to understand the luxuries it would provide us.
• Prior to opening the clinic on day one we visited the day orphan school. It was touching as 67 orphans surrounded us, eager to welcome us. In one class, each student rose from their desk, told us their name, age, and village. We had the opportunity to hear this class sing, and then watch as they ran up to us, surrounded us, and began to pray loudly for the team. Remarkable.
• We visited the grounds, watched them make bricks for the school (Duke got his hands on this machine and made his own brick - very cool). We began to understand how Div's ministry had been expanding in Mpulungu.
• We opened the eye glass clinic with each one of us really learning our roles as we went. Leah was spectacular as our greeter and queueing leader, Duke on the eye chart, Tim S on the computer - carefully matching glasses to the eye measurements and managing our inventory, Tammy "pulling from inventory" and coordinating with Tim, Wendy and Pam State fitting glasses, Karen "re-eye testing" after fitting, and yours truly operating the refractor that measured the eyes. We each had Zambian missionaries or students at each of our stations who provided translation, encouragement, and laughter. We learned to love and enjoy each other so quickly.
• The first eye clinic day didn't compare to any other day - other than to say we learned so much and introduced many process improvements. We started to experience what it was like to hear someone to say (through a translator) - "I can see now" - or "thank you, thank you thank you".
• At noon, we shut down the clinic to eat lunch with the orphans. Lunch included wonderfully cooked spinach, pinto beans, and a "white, stiff porridge" made from maize meal named nshima (pronounced sheema). We also learned how to eat with our hands as utensils were not provided.
• After lunch, we were acquainted with the prison ministry as we hauled nshima, spinach, and beans to the local jail. The jail cells were "free standing" with the cell doors open to the outside. We spoke to prisoners in three cells, the first containing about 10 Zambian men sitting crowded on a floor (the hard core prisoners) a second with 4 or 5, and a third cell with a lone woman. At the first cell, the Zambian missionary spoke to the men in Bemba. We ladled food to the men afterwards. Holly asked the prisoners if they would sing a traditional Zambian song for us. Suddenly, these prisoner broke out in three part harmony, singing with passion like we never heard. It touched us, and seemed to raise their spirits. At the second cell, Tim S and I shared with the prisoners through a translator. At the third, Holly sat and gently spoke in Bemba to the lone woman in the cell, who sat dejected, back toward us, and head down. It was an emotional moment for all.
Our Journey across Lake Tanganyika
• Saturday morning we departed "civilization" for the remote villages on Lake Tanganyika. Lake Tanganyika is the deepest fresh water lake in the world, and second longest in Africa. It borders Zambia, Tanzania, The Congo, and Burundi. I had the displeasure of seeing a National Geographic special on the lake, which focused on the Lake's more dangerous inhabitants. We were all a little tense.
• About 13 or 14 of us (Zambian team plus translators) bordered the boat with all our eye glass equipment and overnight bags. Div and Eleanor stayed behind...hmm. Our 15 hp engine put the boat into a slow crawl out of the harbor, en route to our first village, Tongwa, about two hours away. Karen commented that the boat journey was truly an African Queen moment - she was so right.
• These villages are in the true remote parts of Africa. No running water - no electricity - no roads. Just the Lake, huts, some trees, and a rugged mountainside providing a backdrop.
• En route, we passed the remains of a village that was destroyed by a landslide earlier this spring. Only about 90 minutes from Mpulungu, the western world heard of the disaster on CNN before word ever reached Mpulungu. Seven huts were crushed as rock after rock came down from the mountainside. So much rock fell that even dynamite has not been able to clear the rock to get to the buried bodies. They lie there still today.
• Arrival in Tongwa was straight out of Hollywood. Local Zambians rushed into the water to meet us - a boat from shore came out the 25 yards or so to start taking equipment and people to shore. It was exhilarating as villagers were strewn across the shores to see the "mzungus" (Bemba for white people) who came with the eye glasses.
• Our arrival protocol was to visit the village "headman", followed by the local missionary's home (Lewis - who was leaving the village the next day after 3.5 years), and then the awfully dreaded longdrop. The longdrop (oh, my) is a small, small hut, with a hole in the center of the mud floor. An adjustment for all (especially with the flies in the heat of the day and cockroaches at night) - we all learned, reluctantly, but needfully, to master the longdrop's uniqueness.
• Our testing day in Tongwa was successful, but short. In Tongwa, we tested in a clinic with multiple rooms, so our eye charting, refracting, pulling, and fitting were all in separate rooms. Wendy worked to connect us all by sending notes from the fitting room to the refracting room, telling of the wonderful excitement of Zambians thanking us for coming and helping them to see.
• It was also in Tongwa that Duke, Tim S, and I started to feel the emotional pain of those with more serious eye issues - those we could not help - and the struggle we all had - translators included - telling some that we could not help them. For those few, it was heartbreaking. To them, we were the mzungus from the western world come to provide help to them - help that was not locally available. Yet, we couldn't help everyone. It was difficult, almost impossible - to hold back the tears.
• The plan was to leave Tongwa in time to reach Nsowve (pronounced Zo-vway) by dark. Well, what is it they say about the best laid plans? We arrived Nsowve after dark. The Zambians had us sit since it was too dark to see, and they pitched our tents for us. Good plan. We then had the tour to the longdrop followed by dinner. Dinner included nshima, dried local fish (a whole fish, head and all), and some greens. There were lots of partially filled plates by the end of dinner that were turned back in.
• One of my highlights was this night, as Duke and I bathed in Lake Tanganyika together. I think everyone heard our hollering as we discovered how cold the Lake was, but we eventually adjusted. When in Rome...
• That night we slept hearing the crashing waves on the shore, bright southern hemisphere stars shining into our tent, and a constant breeze batting the sides of the tent. We lied there, realizing just how far away we really were from home - and taking it all in.
The Day of Many Emotions
• This day was remarkable - the most rewarding, dangerous, and challenging of the trip....
• Breakfast in Nsowve (the team loved it) included roasted peanuts (that Wendy helped prepare) and baked sweet potatoes (a true carb explosion with every bite). We had the opportunity to watch a Zambian woman clean a cooking pot by using dirt to scrub it - as unusual as it seemed to our western ways - using dirt from the ground to clean in Nsowve made perfect sense.
• Afterwards, we had church. Listening to the Zambians sing their hymns with such emotion was very touching. Instead of the usual preaching, I was given the honor of addressing the small crowd which Charles, the local Zambian missionary, translated. It was quite an honor, indeed.
• Thirty minutes after church we were scheduled to open the eye clinic in the local school. Pam S, who had moments of feeling a little down, asked if she could just rest. The rest of us, minus Karen, proceeded to prepare the clinic for opening.
• Karen, who is a registered nurse, went with Holly to check on a local woman who reported going into labor two weeks earlier. Karen could not locate a heartbeat. That emotion tugged at us.
• Our first customer of the clinic was the oldest villager, 91 years old. His eyes were so worn and filled with cataracts that we were unable to help him. We advised him that if he could get access to sunglasses (we brought none) his eyes could be sheltered from the bright sun and he would at least feel more comfortable. Tammy, who was pulling glasses, came forward and immediately offered the man her $180+ designer eyeglasses. As they were placed on him, you could see thankfulness swell in his heart. Before he left our room, he looked at Tammy and held his fist over his heart, thanking her for the sacrifice she made. It was a wonderful moment.
• At lunch we learned that Pam's blood pressure had risen dangerously and that her medicine was not helping her respond. The day started to change dramatically. Over the hours that followed, Pam fell into unconsciousness several times, with Tim S and Karen working frantically to keep her awake. The sudden realization that we had no doctors, no medicine, and no boat started to hit us hard. Cell phone calls were made to Tongwa (30 minutes away) so we could have the boat come and collect us, but nobody was answering the calls. Div, who did not accompany us, was called in Mpulungu. He started to make calls. We also began to understand that even if we could get back to Mpulungu, the nearest hospital was in Lusaka, an additional 15 hours away by car.
• Karen, our RN, worked feverishly. She confided in me that she was working "well beyond her pay grade" and was very scared. Charles, the local missionary, came in, laid hands on Pam and prayed. Pam continued in and out of consciousness. Karen told me that even if a boat arrived, Pam was not fit to be transported.
• The team at the clinic stressed. Missionaries went to the clinic and jointly prayed with the team. One team member told me later she just wanted to pack up and leave. Charles consoled the team, stating that this was happening as an "attack" because of the good we were doing. Charles said, "do not stop doing what you came to do" - the team bucked up and continued on.
• As God would have it - Div located a person with a "fast boat" not more than 30 minutes away. The Zambian doctor who visited area clinics "just happened" to be in Mpulungu. About the same time as these points were coming together, our boat from Tongwa "happened" to arrive.
• Karen and Tim continued to work Pam and get her well enough to sit up for transport. At the clinic, we saw the last person who had been eye charted and executed an "emergency shutdown and pack-up". The pregnant Zambian woman and her husband were summoned. We packed our boat as the "fast boat" arrived - said good-byes and headed out onto the Lake, leaving Pam, Karen, Tim S, and Holly behind. About 30 minutes later, they zoomed past us on their short trip to Mpulungu (it took us well over 2 hours to make the return trip).
• After arriving Mpulungu, and during the hours and day that followed, we learned the following. Doctors (over the hours, medical attention had shifted to a doctor Div contacted in Lusaka who is associated with Mission Aviation) were firm that Pam should not consider making the trip home to the States unless her blood pressure could be lowered and stabilized for a couple of days. In the time and day that followed, plans were made for a Mission Aviation plane and doctor to come to Mpulungu and transport Pam and Tim to Lusaka (making a 15 hour car ride in 3 + hours). By Mid-afternoon Tuesday, they were winging their way to Lusaka.
• And in case you haven't forgotten the other story, the heartbeat of the Zambian woman's child was indeed found.
Monday and Tuesday
• I've been writing forever, so I'll make these bullets short and summarize.
• Monday and Tuesday, Leah and I facilitated missionary training meetings with Div and his leadership team. With material donated by Conversant that was then intersected with concepts from Southeast's Discipleship program, we worked through two half days. Long story short, it went very well. Div told Eleanor that it was the best training he had ever participated in.
• Monday and Tuesday our eye glass clinic was open to the public - anyone that could come from Mpulungu. On Tuesday, the team saw a record number of patients. This was especially significant, as the team was running extremely shorthanded. We saw Muslims come to our Christian clinic, which they would never do. We saw new friendships form and spiritual awakenings at work. It was amazing.
• Pam received proper medical attention in Lusaka. Her blood pressure was brought under control, stabilized, and was able to join us for our return trip home.
An outstanding trip by an amazingly strong team. From an eyeglass perspective, we saw 511 patients over the five days and distributed over 225 eyeglasses, plus readers, plus sunglasses (after we returned from the villages, we were given a supply of sunglasses to distribute to those with bad cataracts). On the last day alone, 175 patients were seen.
We learned a TON of how God works. We saw firsthand hand how real spiritual battles - those between forces we cannot see - actually play out in the physical world in a real way. We experienced what it was like - both spiritually and physically, to be removed from the safety net - and oppression - of the American culture.
We were thanked countless times by Div for "our obedience in coming". That the impact of our visit would be lasting and more than we will ever know.
An excerpt from a note Holly sent the team today....
Some of the feedback I am hearing, particularly from Mariska's family here,
is how well you worked together and how committed and hard-working you were.
You were an inspiration to us all and a good example of team work. Thank you
for your flexibility and grace with all of us here. As we have said, I think
it unlikely any of us will ever really know the extent of the impact you had
here, in the intangible ways such as encouragement as well as physically
with the glasses etc.